Performance on international assessments and learning time: A snapshot of how the U.S. compares to other education systems on an international scale
Thursday, March 10th, 2016
9:45 AM - 11:15 AM
The purpose of this study is to provide a snapshot of how the U.S. compares to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and other education entities (countries, subnational units, cities) along the dimensions of academic performance on international assessments and learning time. We will address: (1) how the U.S. differs from other countries in overall performance on international assessments (2) and highlight the discrepancies between the U.S. and other countries in the use of learning time. The academic performance outcomes and the learning time metrics described, derive from the most recent administration of the TIMSS and PISA assessments in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The findings from this analysis will inform future research on how countries and U.S. states, like Indiana, use educational time in an effort to improve student performance on federally mandated state assessments. Since the turn of the century, American student performance on international assessments has remained unchanged in reading and math (Wagemaker, 2013). Across all Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 subject areas, the U.S. placed at or below OECD averages, which compared to similar countries, such as Canada, is significantly lower in overall performance on the international level (Kena et al., 2015). According to a study in the Digest of Education Statistics 2013, 8th grade students in Korea, Singapore, Japan, and the Russian Federation spent fewer instructional hours in 8th grade math compared to their American peers, however each of these countries outperformed U.S. 8th grade students on the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) math assessment in 2011. According to TIMSS 2011 International Results in Mathematics (2012), numerous factors affect a student's ability to learn including, but not limited to school climate, access to early education, level of and access to certain school and home resources, classroom instructional approaches, teacher characteristics, mental and physical health, and attitude. These factors have a compounding influence on how well a student performs academically. Despite these factors, instructional time is still considered to be an important resource required for student academic success (Mullis I. V., Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012). The U.S. produced average scores above the 2011 TIMSS international scale average score (500) across subject areas and grade levels. Likewise, 2012 PISA scores show American students performed around the OECD average (Kena et al., 2015). However, the gap in performance between other comparable countries is staggering, particularly among five East Asian countries. According to PISA 2012 and TIMSS 2011 results, the comparable high performing countries in math and science were: Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei - China, Singapore, Japan, Korea, the Russian Federation, and Finland. More than 60 percent of 4th and 8th grade students in Chinese Taipei - China, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong-China, and Korea performed at the high or advanced benchmark on the 2011 TIMSS math assessment, which is considerably better than the U.S. (Mullis I. V., Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012). According to the OECD (2013) some of these countries (eg. Finland, Singapore, Japan, Korea, the Russian Federation, and Hong Kong-China) distribute roughly the same number of instructional hours as the U.S., but do so over more weeks and days of school. This would suggest less intensive schools days in comparison to the U.S., which holds more time-intensive school days over shorter periods of time. PISA 2012 indicates that researchers have yet to come up with clear evidence that attributes academic performance to certain types of learning time (e.g. instructional time in the classroom versus after school program participation), although, if we assume that other intervening variables are of equal quality and weight (e.g. student-teacher ratio, professional development of teachers, and quality of schools' educational resources), instructional time should be positively associated with academic achievement (Mullis I. V., Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012). Lavy (2010) found instruction time to have a statistically significant effect on student achievement, when comparing PISA 2006 scores for the same 10-and 13-year old students in Israel across subjects (as cited in Mullis I. V., Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012). Further, Patall, Cooper & Allen (2010) argue that extending learning time can be effectively used to support learning for at-risk students, however, the strength of the effect of extending school time as well as the long-term and cumulative effects have yet to be determined. Therefore, there is some evidence to support a link between time and learning along with other factors in a variety of subjects across some schools in OECD countries.